There’s a big article in this week’s Sunday Telegraph about Professor Sherry Turkle and her fears over the potentially harmful effects of new technology and especially about the hazards of sexting. The article reports that:
‘An estimated 40 per cent of people under 18, some as young as 11, have sent or received sexually explicit photos, with the same proportion believing there is “nothing wrong” with sending or receiving a topless photograph.’
Could it be the reason they think there’s ‘nothing wrong’ with it is that, indeed, there is nothing wrong with it?
There are reasons it may not be a good idea to sext a picture of your breasts, your vulva or your penis to a boyfriend or girlfriend. But that’s not because there’s anything ‘wrong’ with breasts, vulvas or penises.
I always feel very disturbed when words such as ‘lewd’, ‘obscene’ and ‘pornography’ enter this discussion. They make people feel bad about themselves and bad about sex. Some youngsters have felt suicidal over private photos finding their way onto public websites and that kind of language, and the attitude behind it, makes the situation even harder for them. To be told that your photos are ‘obscene’ or ‘lewd’ is only going to make you feel worse.
I would counsel any young person not to sext unless they’re perfectly happy for their classmates, their colleagues, their friends and acquaintances, their relatives and their parents to see the pictures. But if a youngster does sext, and if the pictures are subsequently distributed on the internet, that youngster needs to know that she or he has done nothing wrong. There’s nothing to get upset about, apart from the breach of trust. There’s no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed. Every female has a vulva, every male has a penis. It’s not a big deal.
Pornography is not well taught in English schools according to Ofsted (the body that inspects them). In general, 60% of schools are good or outstanding in PSHE (Personal Social Health & Economic Education), but when it comes specifically to pornography almost no schools are up to scratch.
Now you may not think it’s the job of schools to teach pornography. But pornography is something even young children have to deal with.
According to my dictionary, pornography is books, pictures, films and the like ‘designed to stimulate sexual excitement’. So we’re talking about a pretty wide range of material. In fact, it’s far too wide a term to be of much use when it comes to framing policies.
I certainly have nothing against material designed to stimulate sexual excitement. Pornography is a fact of life and has been ever since men fashioned representations of naked women and their vulvas from bits of stone and painted them on the walls of caves. Is sex wrong? No. Is it wrong to be sexually excited? No. So is it wrong for anyone to produce material with the intention of causing sexual excitement? Logically, no.
But there definitely is a worry when it comes to certain pornography being seen by children. What are nine year-olds to make of a scene, for example, where a man ties a naked woman to a cross and beats her with a whip? Or in which a girl is raped? There’s no way nine year-olds have the resources to evaluate those images. What will they make of sex? What will their own sex lives be like?
I don’t have the answer. But I’m quite certain it’s important to give children the tools they need to be able to deal with the pornography they’re inevitably going to see. I think Ofsted is right about this. I hope schools will improve.
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